Rethink: The Power of Words

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and doctrines that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and doctrines.

The issue.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend among some charismatic Christians. There has been more and more talk about the power of our words and how they affect our situations. Usually it occurs in sermons where the people are encouraged to speak positive words into the air about their lives and situations. They are also told that much of what ails them (whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc) is coming from the negative words that they are speaking over their lives. The preacher will say “The reason you are sick is because you keep claiming you are sick instead of saying that you’re healed” or “Wake up and speak to the airways that you are blessed and all your bills will be paid.”

Why does this matter?

The verse used most often when people talk about the power of words is:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

Many have taken this scripture and used it exclusively to make a theology that states our circumstances are created by what our mouth speaks. The problem is that the Bible never mentions this. The closest we get to the power of words again is in the book of  James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

James talks about our words as righteousness or sin, not life-altering positive or negative powers.

Now the Bible does mention people speaking to themselves and stirring themselves up to hope and believe. David is a great example of this.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Did you catch what David did though? Yes he talked to himself, but He used memories of what God had done to change his mood.

Still, changing moods (going from anxiousness to hope, or sorrow to joy) is one thing. Believing your words can change your physical circumstances or can bring in extra finances is another. In fact, it’s unbiblical.

I stumbled on this tweet the other day and thought it summed up this point well. Nowhere in scripture is a person reprimanded for a sickness simply for “not speaking healing over their life”. What most people forget about healing is that we don’t heal anyone. God does and He needs nothing to do it. While faith is usually present where there is healing, it is still something that God does according to His sovereign will. Our words have little if nothing to do with it.

My biggest problem with the power of words thinking is that it is rooted is a few horrible things. First, it is rooted in Word of Faith theology that claims that we have whatever we ask and so if something is not what we like, we have the power to change it. This is prosperity gospel at its core and goes against the sovereign nature of God, the depravity of man, and God’s way of bringing maturity through suffering.

UnknownPower of words thinking also has deep roots into the same philosophy as the book “The Secret.” Here is a quote from this book:

“As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Christianity Today has a great review of it.

This book and its thinking as been held high by people like Oprah and sadly the same kind of thinking has kept into many Christian’s theology.

Now I believe in faith. I believe in healing and I also believe in reminding ourselves that God is faithful to provide and that He wants to heal (and purchased our healing). I also admit that,particularly with emotional states, there is scientific data regarding the placebo effect, that what we believe can help us feel better, especially for issues and pains that are mainly mental. Most of what I’m speaking against though falls under “hyper-faith”, the belief that anything we see as negative is not God’s will and therefore can be changed if we have enough faith and do the right things (ex. if we pray enough, give enough, serve enough, obey enough, etc).

But remember what Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Little branches, I encourage all of us when I say: stop being anxious. Stop worrying whether your bills will get paid because you didn’t speak enough positive words over your life. Stop feeling the shame about your child because you did declare “you’re an overcomer” over their life everyday. Our anxiousness, worry, and negative words can only produce one thing: sin. Quit reading books that focus on the power of what we can do for ourselves through our words. Let us stop all the self-talk and using the power of suggestion on ourselves and start looking to our Father who knows what we need and is good to give them as they line up with His will.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)

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